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10 things that went right for the Florida Gators on their way to the BCS title game

BRIAN CASSELLA   |   Times

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

10

things that went right on the road to Miami

A season that began with high expectations and ran into early adversity found its stride with plenty of good fortune as the Gators won their way into the BCS title game. We look at 10 things that went Florida's way on the road to No. 1 and five things that could have gone awry.

5 things that could have gone wrong

Fourth and 1 | Sept. 27

Trailing by one in the final minute, the Gators faced fourth and 1 at the Ole Miss 32. QB Tim Tebow lined up in the shotgun with no running back then ran up the middle. Although it was a play he had become synonymous with, he was stopped for no gain, resulting in the only loss of the regular season. Getting knocked off by an unranked team in your home stadium could have been ruinous. The Gators could have packed it in but instead rallied and did not lose another game.

A last-second field goal | Nov. 8

Joe Paterno's Penn State team was undefeated and on a roll — ranked ahead of the Gators — when it ran into Iowa. In what was expected to be a can't-miss victory, the Nittany Lions struggled and lost 24-23 on Daniel Murray's 31-yard field goal with one second left. Had the field goal failed, Penn State, which followed with routs of Indiana and Michigan State, most likely would have the Gators' slot in the national championship game.

Michael Crabtree's catch | Nov. 1

If the Texas Tech receiver doesn't make a spectacular last-second catch then take a short run into the end zone for a 39-33 win over then-No. 1 Texas, Florida might already have played its bowl game. The win set in motion a bizarre chain of events in the Big 12 that allowed Oklahoma to reach the Big 12 title game instead of Texas (although the Longhorns defeated the Sooners), thus paving the way for the Gators to move up in the polls and reach the BCS title game.

Losing Percy Harvin | Nov. 29

Florida's most versatile player suffered a high right ankle sprain against Florida State that sidelined him for the SEC Championship Game. Turns out, Florida had a host of players who stepped up to help ease his loss and help it beat Alabama.

The Alabama penalty | Dec. 6

With the Gators trailing 20-17 in the fourth quarter of the SEC title game and facing third and 4, RB Jeff Demps rushed for 3 yards. Whether the Gators would have gone for it on fourth and 1 will forever be a mystery because Alabama LB Dont'a Hightower was called for a face mask, giving the Gators a first down at the Tide 27. Florida finished the drive with a touchdown — Demps' 1-yard run — six plays later.

Surviving a Hurricane | Sept. 6

In one of their rare close games, the Gators led archnemesis Miami just 9-3 at the end of the third quarter. But Florida outscored the Hurricanes 17-0 in the fourth aided by several big plays. Among them: a 22-yard pass from QB Tim Tebow to RB Brandon James, catches of 32 and 52 yards by WR Louis Murphy and a fumble recovery by S Joe Haden on fourth and 5 at the Miami 38. Murphy finished with a game-high 77 yards on four receptions.

Brandon James vs. Vols | Sept. 20

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer was well aware of how dangerous return man Brandon James, below, could be — based on the performances he had against the Vols as a freshman and sophomore. So Tennessee put extra emphasis on containing Florida's return game. That strategy should have included kicking away from James. He returned a first-quarter punt 78 yards for a touchdown to give the Gators a 17-0 lead on their way to a 30-6 victory.

Rebound in Fayetteville | Oct. 4

The stunning loss to Ole Miss was still the talk of the sports nation, but the Gators didn't spend a lot of time wallowing in self-pity a week later at Arkansas. In a coming-out party for RBs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, the two rushed for 103 yards each and combined for three touchdowns in a 38-7 victory.

The tip turned TD Oct. 11

Three plays into the LSU game, the Gators got a huge break. QB Tim Tebow threw a deep crossing pattern to WR Percy Harvin, but DB Danny McCray tipped it. In an instant, a potential interception turned into a 70-yard touchdown after the ball fell into Harvin's hands. The play set the tone for the remainder of the game as Florida led 20-0 with 49 seconds remaining in the first half, never trailed and won 51-21.

Taking on many tired opponents

Everything broke the Gators' way. After they knocked off the Vols in Knoxville, virtually every team after that had one of its toughest games just before playing the Gators. Many were emotionally and physically drained by the time they got to the Gators.

Payback in Jacksonville | Nov. 1

Despite the Gators' valiant efforts to convince everyone that the 2007 game — which included a full-team, end zone celebration after the Bulldogs scored their first touchdown — was history, this was a game the Gators wanted — and needed — badly to win. Billed as the de facto SEC East championship, the winner most likely was headed to Atlanta. Florida set the tone early by slowing RB Knowshon Moreno, who ran for 188 yards against it in 2007, then unleashed its offense on the way to a 49-10 victory. Seven players caught passes. And the Gators held Moreno to 65 yards on 17 carries and intercepted touted QB Matthew Stafford three times.

First-year QB syndrome

Florida played eight first-year quarterbacks this season, including in five of their first six games. That turned out to be huge for a secondary that had been maligned last season. It gave the secondary an opportunity to gain confidence and improve, which made it a much-more formidable unit as the season wore on.

Burying a legend Nov. 15

In the end, only former coach Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks stood in the way of an SEC East title. In a game reminiscent of the way Spurrier's Gators played, Florida led 28-0 before the Gamecocks scored their first points, a field goal with 2:36 left in the first half. The 56-6 loss was Spurrier's worst as a college coach.

Surviving the elements | Nov. 29

A torrential rainstorm seemed to have leveled the playing field for Florida State when the Gators traveled to Tallahassee. It brought into question if the Gators' passing offense would be rendered ineffective. But Florida, and particularly Tim Tebow, weathered the elements — and even the loss of star receiver Percy Harvin to a high ankle sprain — to defeat their archrival 45-15 and keep their title hopes alive.

Comeback drive Dec. 6

The knock against QB Tim Tebow had been he hadn't led a comeback. He took care of that in the SEC title game. After Alabama took a 20-17 lead on a field goal with eight seconds left in the third, Tebow led an 11-play, 62-yard drive capped by Jeff Demps' 1-yard scoring run. Later, WR Riley Cooper's touchdown catch sealed a 31-20 victory.

10 things that went right for the Florida Gators on their way to the BCS title game 01/03/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 4, 2009 2:01pm]
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